Stay Calm and Save Your Marriage

Shortly after I learned of the affair, I was scared to say or do anything that I thought would upset my wife. I assumed that she already had one foot out the door, and all she needed was a catalyst to get her to take that last step. I wouldn’t challenge her on lies she told me, even though I had direct evidence to the contrary. Whenever we had serious conversations, I typically started with several disclaimers about not wanting to upset her and kept the tone as non-confrontational as possible. That was obviously a pathetic situation that couldn’t survive for long. I had only just learned that we had issues in our marriage though, let alone that my wife had apparently found someone to replace me. I was completely unprepared for that situation in every way possible, and it seemed like the safest strategy was to at least work to keep our marriage together while I came to terms with what was happening.

I assumed that she had built resentment toward me by this point as I was forcing her to choose between two options that she had previously been able to share. Of course, no one could logically defend such resentment as I was simply demanding that my wife be honest with me and not conduct an affair outside of our marriage. But not even my wife defends her state of mind during that time. We were both in complete crisis mode, and neither of us were thinking rationally.

The mindset that I adopted was that I was not dealing with my wife. My wife didn’t lie, she didn’t keep secrets from me, and she certainly didn’t put her desire for some guy above her relationship with her family. It was as if someone else was inhabiting the body of my wife, and I would be damned if that person was going to make major life decisions that we would both have to suffer for. If in fact this was the new person that my wife had become, then I had to at least delay those decisions until I knew that I had no hope of getting her back.  The potential of saving my marriage and my family was too valuable to act impetuously.

I’ve read stories of other couples who have seemed more intent on attacking their spouse than in rebuilding their relationship. They seem to revel in confronting them with their lies, kicking them out of the house, screaming about the hurt they’ve caused. They’re probably completely justified in those actions, but they seem counterproductive to rebuilding a marriage. We had already caused considerable damage to each other that we needed to repair, and we certainly didn’t need to pile any more on top of that.

I didn’t need to yell and attack to communicate the anger and hurt that I was feeling anyway. That would just give her the opportunity to fight back and focus us more on our ability to hurt one another when our marriage required the exact opposite. I could actually convey those emotions more clearly through calm conversation, and instead of prompting her to fight back, it created a safe environment where we could both be open and honest.  I wanted to understand her thinking and get answers to my questions, and I wasn’t going to get that with angry confrontation.  The style of communication that we developed during that time became our standard rapport even as I regained my pride and our relationship matured.

Of course, this calm demeanor wasn’t easy. I had just as much anger and hostility in me as anyone else in my situation. While my logical mind was determined to maintain my priorities, my emotional mind wanted to attack. I started working out regularly, almost compulsively. My runs and bike rides were moments of solitude when I could think about the situation and plan my actions. When I wasn’t exercising, I was taking long walks around the neighborhood in contemplation. In my head, I would go through mock conversations with my wife. I would try to predict different reactions she might have and what my response would be in return. I would think about how much we could expect to get through in a single conversation, and make decisions on which topics to hold until later. When I was home alone I would often yell while I had mock arguments with a wife who wasn’t there.  Yelling at an empty chair may not have been quite as satisfying as yelling at my wife, but it also didn’t carry the same potential consequences.

I would constantly tell myself that there would always be time to be vent. If the marriage ended, I had plenty of ammunition that I could fire at my wife, and at the other guy as well.  The facts of the past weren’t going to change, and I certainly wasn’t going forget them.  If I ever had a doubt whether we were ready for a particular topic or whether I should divulge some information I had obtained, I’d typically wait.  There was no risk in waiting another day.  But once a statement was made, once I tipped my hand, there was no going back.  That one hurtful comment that would cut right to the depth of her emotion might feel satisfying to me in the moment, but it would forever live in her memory.

There was one moment that illustrates how tentative the situation was, and it was the closest that our marriage came to ending abruptly. One evening after the kids had gone to bed, I confronted my wife with some evidence that I had uncovered. It was the one time that I made a direct confrontation out of sheer anger.  She panicked, stormed out the front door, and actually ran off down the street.  I was in a panic for almost an hour before she finally arrived back on our doorstep.  She later confided to me that she ended up in the alley behind our house debating whether to call the other guy to pick her up.  She ultimately decided against that option since she knew that if she made that call, our marriage was over.

I’ve thought about that moment many times.  If she had made that call, she would have clearly established that she was choosing him over our family. Our marriage would no longer exist. One decision made in the heat of moment by someone not thinking rationally had the potential to completely alter the rest of our lives. The people who we are now would still be suffering from the impetuous actions of the people we used to be.

Fortunately, that was the only time during that volatile phase of our recovery that I allowed myself to lose my temper. Had there been others, each would have had the potential to result in that final breaking point, and it’s quite probable that one would have done exactly that. Maintaining my composure and clearly focusing my actions on my critical goals were key to navigating our recovery.

All of this may make me appear passive, someone so desperate to save his marriage that he was willing to give up his self respect and completely bury his very justified anger . But I was actually acting out of aggression as well, just in a controlled manner. I assumed that my wife had been focusing on my negative traits as a defense mechanism to help justify her indiscretions. The more that I reacted in anger, the more that would fuel her justification.  She was going to have to consciously walk away from our marriage as opposed to having me drive her out.  I was determined that she would have to make that decision with full guilt.

A couple of times she asked me if I wanted her to leave the house. How easy that would have been for her, run back to the other guy for comfort while I came up with some excuse for the kids. I was determined to keep her there to deal with her family. If she wanted to leave then that would be her decision, and she would be the one to explain it to the kids.

Of course, I assumed the other guy was encouraging her negative thoughts about me. The best thing that I could do for him would be to play into that, to react with anger and drive her closer to him. That would allow him to play the comforting role, protecting my wife from her irrational husband and giving her a preview of how wonderful life could be with him. The more that my wife and I became adversaries, the more that she would view him as an ally. I needed her on my side so that we could methodically push him out of our relationship.

While this patient and calculated approach was integral to saving our marriage, it didn’t come without its price.  There is value in venting your anger and releasing all of that emotion.  A simple but accurate analogy is a shaken can of soda.  If you pop it open abruptly, the contents will explode out immediately.  The alternative is to open it ever so slightly such that the contents slowly leak out.  You avoid the potential damage from the blast, but it takes significantly longer for all that pressure to be released.  I’m still working through painful memories and experiences, and I still regularly have fantasies of reacting in very different ways that I did.  As short lived as it would have been, there would have been a sense of satisfaction and justice berating my wife and the other guy.  I can internalize and delay my emotions, but I can’t avoid them forever.

But I have no regrets over the path I chose.  Working through my emotions with my family and marriage intact is far more satisfying then reveling by myself over some past brief display of anger.  As the cliché says, anything worth having is worth working for.  I worked hard for my marriage, and I haven’t for moment doubted whether it was worth the cost.


11 Comments on “Stay Calm and Save Your Marriage”

  1. Felicity says:

    Thank you for sharing this journey. I think that if more people handled infidelity in this manner, the divorce rate would plummet. I have a question; you obviously love her very much; if she had chosen the other guy, could you have been her friend after the initial wounds had time to heal? Or would you have washed your hands of her?

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    • Thanks for the kind words.

      If she had picked the other guy, I would have undoubtedly gone through a period of venting all the anger that I had built up. That certainly would have damaged, if not completely destroyed, any of the relationship that we had left. Over time though, I suspect that would subside to the point that we could maintain a friendship.

      If nothing else, our relationship with our kids would ensure that I would never wash my hands of her. They didn’t ask for anything of this, and I refuse to ever make them deal with any of the stress and awkwardness of two parents who can’t be civil to one another.

      I suspect though that we would eventually forge a true friendship beyond our obligation to our kids though. We’ve spent half our lives together, and I just can’t imagine us ever walking away from each other. There are a whole variety of reasons that I say that, and I won’t attempt to summarize them all here. Hopefully that’s something that I’ll be able to communicate further in upcoming blog posts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Felicity says:

        I look forward to reading more!

        Sometimes people grow apart. Sometimes love changes. But just because it changes doesn’t mean that it leaves. It just… changes. I’d like to think that in the event my and my partner’s love were to change, that we could find a different kind of love for one another and carry on, even if in a different capacity.

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  2. That takes so much strength, yet makes so much sense to me. I applaud you. Much respect.

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  3. Devastated says:

    Hi Cerebral Spouse:

    I was saddened to see your passivity. My reaction to my husband’s affair was similar. I was afraid to push him into the affair partners arms.

    He too would run from the house when I showed anger. It is not a healthy reaction. It is what my psychologist calls a passive aggressive act.

    I too thought two years post affair that things had improved and that I could nice my husband into being a good husband.

    Then, disaster. I found out the the other woman had contacted him and the affair had been reignited.

    It had been going on for only a month when I found out again, because now I was alert to the cues.

    This time, all hell broke loose. I let him have it. I told him how sleazy he and his behaviors was.

    How his passive aggression was insulting, after all he had the affair. I should be the run running from the house when we argued, not him.

    I threatened to file, this time. I told him how deeply distrustful I was of him and how disgusting I thought his behavior was.

    Lo and behold, that is what actually turned him around. I think I was finally commanding his respect by showing my anger rather than being a door mat.

    One thing, too, was that he told me he thought my being nice meant I really was not threatened by his other women. He in part had the affair because I gave him way too much freedom and he thought I did not care.

    Now five years out we are doing okay, but mainly because I keep my cheating spouse on a very short leash. I am no longer a doormat.

    Also just a note. I also met with his affair partners husband to enlighten him to the affair. He, too tried to nice his wife into being faithful.

    We are still in touch and they are still having problems. She has twice cheated on him since the affair with my husband, and she had apparently twice cheated on him before the affair with my husband.

    Because of that knowledge I am also open to the fact that the affair I discovered may be only the tip of the iceberg. There were likely others becaus I was always an understanding easy going wife who let him go out with the boys to bars and never inquisitioned him about his whereabouts.

    Changing that behavior is what save my marriage in the end. Being nice only made him think I was not concerned or that I was a push over.

    Your situation may be really different, but I caution you to be wary of being too nice.

    Although there are many things that have improved. I still suffer from the thought that the man I thought was watching my back was willing to stab me in the back so easily.

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    • Just because I stayed calm didn’t mean I was passive, and in fact I directly addressed that idea in the post. As I also stated in there, I didn’t have to scream to illustrate my hurt and anger. In fact, I was better able to communicate those emotions in a controlled manner, and she couldn’t possibly have confused my calm demeanor with a lack of interest. Nor could any rational person observing our interaction have possibly considered me a pushover or a doormat.

      She and I both agree that if I had taken the approach that I think you’re advocating, we would be divorced now. We came precariously close in the one incident I described. She was in a completely irrational state of mind at the time, and as I said, I didn’t want major life decisions to made until we were both thinking rationally.

      I completely disagree with you on one point. If we ever reached the point where I felt that I needed to keep her on a leash or restrict her freedom, then I would want to be divorced. If that’s what my marriage required to stay intact, then that’s a marriage I wouldn’t want to be a part of. I want an equal partner for a wife, not someone who I have to constantly watch or check up on. I’ve been very clear that if any of that relationship started up again, she would be out the door. But while I’m certainly more observant than I was previously, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to spend every waking moment in constant paranoia about that possibility.

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  4. Devastated says:

    Hi Cerebral spouse:

    Every relationship is different, and as I stated your wife may be very different than my husband even though they share the trait of running out of the house when confronted.

    I am glad to hear you could not possibly be considered a doormat.

    Neither am I. No one has ever described me as a door mat. Still, with my husband a shorter leash was needed. I do not however check his email or phone. Geesh that would be too annoying, but he is no longer allowed out to bars with boys only or on boy’s only vacations.

    Why?

    He used those freedoms to see his affair partner.

    My psychologist suggested, that I forbid those going forward. Several that we saw spoke of the concept of the “married singles” Those being people who are married but still need to go out without their spouse, way too often.

    I am a homebody. I also work from home. I prefer to go out with my spouse. I never feel the need to go out only with girlfriends. I always prefer to socialize with my spouse. I also have absolutely no interest in vacationing with the girls rather than my spouse.

    It’s interesting that both my husband and his affair partner were the type to socialize without their spouses.

    My husband and I now never go out socially unless with each other. The husband of my husband’s affair partner told me that he, too, never goes out with the boys or even cares too. I find that interesting.

    Of course my husband was meeting his affair partner at lunch and in mornings on work days, too. So he still has that time alone and he works an hour from the home. So who really knows what he does in his spare time, when at work.

    I have given him a another chance. Mainly because his affair partner was very pushy in contacting him, not the other way around. And, things have improved because he no longer goes out on boy’s only ventures.

    Still, the door to divorce is still wide open. I have actually prepared for it, in case I learn of any other affairs. He will NOT get another chance.

    In any case, I am glad to hear things are different with you. It must be nice to trust your wife enough to still allow her out to socialize with girls only. I would like to trust my spouse, too. But in my case after he reignited. I don’t. It’s sad, too, because I always disliked people who kept their spouses on a too short leash. It seemed too distrustful to me.

    As you, I want to keep things together for my children. But, if there is another affair. I will just have to explain to them what Daddy did.

    At this point, they know nothing, and neither does my family or my spouse’s family. So, perhaps he had not suffered any consequence after his first foray into affair land and that made the second attempt easier.

    Anyway, just venting. I am not saying your situation is the same in any way. I hope I have not angered you. I enjoyed reading your story.

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    • You certainly didn’t anger me. We all have different situations and different opinions, and what may be appropriate for one relationship may not be appropriate for another. It’s always interesting to hear another perspective. I may not agree, and you can see that I’ll state pretty clearly when that’s the case, but that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t interesting and valuable.

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  5. […] It was obvious though that if I gave her an ultimatum now, I would lose. Our family would lose. I couldn’t accept us trying to tackle major life decisions while both of us were in such an i….  I had to at least keep us intact until we could get to the point of open communication free of […]

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  6. […] at all.  They were just looking for a means of communication that I couldn’t detect.  The composure that I had maintained over all those months finally reached breaking […]

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